Boehner Forced to Make Bigger Spending Cuts, But Still Falls Short

Speaker of the House John Boehner (R.-Ohio) changed course yesterday and announced that the House would cut more government spending than the Republicans proposed a week ago.

After a backlash from his own party for only cutting $32 billion, Boehner released new figures that show the House GOP cutting $59 billion in the Continuing Resolution (CR) to be presented next week.  The total cuts from current spending would decrease this year’s projected annual budget deficit by 3.9%.

While Boehner announced that the House would cut “$100 billion in discretionary spending,” the fact sheet released today shows that the discretionary cut is only $84 billion.  In referring to a $100 billion cut, Boehner was comparing the figures to a budget proposed by President Obama last year, which was never enacted.

The Republicans’ fact sheet released today shows that the new CR will actually only cut discretionary spending by $67 billion from current levels.  Because they are increasing security spending by $8 billion, the total cuts for the rest of the current fiscal year would be $59 billion. 

Also, the numbers show that even with the additional spending cuts, government spending would still be $16 billion higher than the promised 2008 levels.

“Let me be very clear about this:  We are going to exceed our Pledge to America.  We are going to cut $100 billion in discretionary spending next week.  Write it down.  One hundred billion in discretionary spending.  And we aren’t going to stop there,” Boehner said at a dinner on Thursday in Washington hosted by the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC).

The conservative audience cheered loudly after Boehner made this announcement, but Blackberrys and iPhones lit up quickly with questions about the specific details of the spending cuts.

In their successful effort to win back control of the House during the midterm election, the Republicans promised in their Pledge to America: “With common-sense exceptions for seniors, veterans, and our troops, we will roll back government spending to pre-stimulus, pre-bailout levels, saving us at least $100 billion in the first year alone cut discretionary spending back to 2008 levels “saving at least $100 billion in the first year alone.”

The current CR, was negotiatied between Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) and President Obama, passed the House on December 22 and expires on March 4. The Republicans viewed McConnell’s deal as a victory because they would be able to affect government spending early in the fiscal year.

Since Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) released his budget for a new CR a week ago, the GOP leaders have been trying to explain how their budget meets the promises made in the Pledge.  The leadership has been specifically explaining four controversial fiscal issues.

First, the Republicans said on February 3 that the budget for the CR would cut $74 billion. However, that figure was based on President Obama’s proposed budget last year, which never passed the House. So Ryan’s CR budget actually only would cut $32 billion from current spending. In the new GOP proposal, $59 billion would be cut from the current level of government spending, which was contnued from 2010. 

GOP aides explained that the $100 billion figure was made relative to the President’s budget because they assumed those spending levels would be enacted when they wrote the pledge last September. The Democrats did not pass the President’s budget – nor any budget- last year.  But, the House Republicans have not made public statements updating their goals for spending cuts to account for the fiscal assumptions made before the election.

Second, the $74 billion in cuts—relative to Obama’s proposed budget—was from general discretionary and $16 billion in security spending. The Pledge specifically targets the Democrats for increasing “non-security discretionary spending” by 88% over the previous three years. There is no mention in the Pledge of security spending rising fast under the Democrats control. As such, the calls for cutting $100 billion in discretionary spending in the Pledge seemed to apply to non-security spending. GOP aides say that security spending was always part of the spending cuts. 

Either way, the Republicans’ CR will actually increase security spending by $8 billion from $627 billion in FY2010 $635 billion. The $16 billion of security spending cuts in Ryan’s CR is not a real cut in current spending, but is in comparison to Obama’s never-enacted budget. 

Third, the Republicans promised, as Boehner restated on Thursday night, that they would make discretionary spending cuts that would save “at least $100 billion in the first year alone.”  Whether taking the hypothetical $74 billion, the real cut of $32 billion in the original CR, or the $59 billion in the current CR, the cuts fall short of the Pledge.

The GOP leadership insists that the $100 billion cut was always intended for a 12-month calendar year and not within a shortened fiscal year.

“It fulfills the pledge because we said in a year’s time we were going to cut spending by $100 billion.  As you know, we are five-twelfths of the way through the fiscal year by the time the expiration occurs,” House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R.-Va.) said on Tuesday.

Fourth, the GOP pledged to cut discretionary spending back to the “pre-stimulus pre-bailout” spending levels of 2008.  However, the Budget Committee’s own fact sheet shows that the original CR would have set discretionary spending for FY 2011 at $42 billion higher than FY 2008.  Under the new CR from leadership, discretionary spending levels are $394 billion, which is $16 billion higher than government spending in 2008.

GOP aides for the Budget Committee this week explained that their proposed government spending of $420 billion – now $394 billion – for 2011 is higher than the 2008 expenditure of $378 billion because it takes into account the spending from the previous five months of the fiscal year that were at the Democrat-set higher level.  The committee aides were not able to provide a figure to show that the spending level would drop to 2008 levels for the duration of the fiscal year.

Meanwhile, the Appropriations Committee is using Boehner’s revised numbers to make the specific government program cuts for the CR, which expires on March 4.

“After meeting with my subcommittee chairs, we have determined that the CR can and will reach a total of $100 billion in cuts compared to the President’s request immediately—fully meeting the goal outlined in the Republican Pledge to America in one fell swoop,” said the committee’s Chairman Hal Rogers (R.-Ky.).

Since taking back the House, the Republicans have their first big opportunity to make major government spending cuts. They are on track to make the biggest cut in discretionary spending in history. But, the American people put the Republicans in charge of the House in order to meet both the words and the spirit of the Pledge. The Republicans still fall $41 billion short of that promise.